Why is the clean label movement so important to the ingredients market?

Sam Millar: Clean label is generally seen as something consumers want, and thus is a driver for retailers and brands as well as their suppliers; having said that, there are a number of aspects that need different approaches or requirements from consumers. Alternative messages are around ‘natural’ as a trend as well as ‘store cupboard’ ingredients.

There are also opportunities in the field of premium products, potentially with new ‘natural’ ingredients that pick up on some of the current culinary trends; for example, foraging. There is probably also some overlap in consumers’ minds with concepts such as ‘free from’ and authenticity/trust. All of these drivers ensure that transparency and simplicity on ingredient declarations will continue to be a trend.

Even Remøy: To me, transparency is the key word. The whole interest in clean labels is based on a negative reaction and counter movement around recent food safety scandals and problems related to food value chains.

Buyers and consumers are looking for alternatives that meet their needs in terms of health, transparency and trustworthy solutions. Clean labels have become a collective symbol for an array of different requests connected to these key elements.

Clean labels offer these by providing a short and clear ingredient list featuring just the bare essentials through real ingredients on store shelves that consumers understand and recognise.

Barbara Gallani: Clean labels are driving product development and innovation. Ingredient manufacturers need to work closely with their customers to ensure that solutions are available to respond to increasing consumer demand for simpler, easier-to-understand recipes and lists of ingredients.

More consumers are becoming aware of the link between diet and health, and are looking for healthier options when shopping. Consumer demand for clean labels, and more transparency and simplicity, have become closely aligned with the diet and health agenda.

Karin Nielsen: Consumers at the end of the supply chain are becoming increasingly concerned about safety and the origins of their food. This affects the start of the supply chain − the agricultural industry − as well as ingredient manufacturers in the shape of significant demand for natural components.

"Consumer demand for clean labels, and more transparency and simplicity, have become closely aligned with the diet and health agenda."

Many ingredients have been chemically synthesised to ensure low cost and consistent quality. Today, the methods used to extract, filter and concentrate natural ingredients are at the forefront of manufacturing technologies in food ingredients companies, as fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) manufacturers increasingly demand reduced manufacturing aids, total traceability and consistent quality.

Rachel Wilson: Clean label is about connecting with the consumer using ingredients that shoppers are familiar with, and developing a trust-based relationship with the user. Consumers are inherently dubious of the unknown, so keeping it clean or familiar is a positive.

Identify three current clean-label trends and three breakthrough innovations for 2014.

SM: Colours are, and will remain, topical, as will challenges associated with salt, sugar and fat reduction. We see some tensions here as the need to replace functionality with existing ingredients puts additional demands on developing clean-label products. Similarly, there is a desire for cleaner labels and reduced processing – a perception of more natural and less processed food. Retaining product quality attributes and shelf life is a challenge in this environment. In terms of coming trends, we anticipate monk fruit as a sweetener, and new sources of savoury flavours such as sea vegetables and seaweed in 2014.

ER: Authentic, additive-free and sustainably sourced products are becoming increasingly important and will be clearly evident in 2014.

BG: Current trends identifiable across branded and own-label products include the development of simpler recipes, the use of familiar ingredients, and visual simplification of ingredient lists through the creative use of font, colour and boxes, as well as the use of explanations about specific ingredients and processes. In 2014, manufacturers and retailers are likely to continue to review their recipes and ingredients to provide consumers with even simpler, more transparent and easy-to-understand products.

"Proteins are generally seen as ‘good’ by consumers and are on trend for reasons of satiety and weight control."

KN: Natural food colours and flavours are the biggest-growing ingredient classes, as well as substituting artificial sweeteners for natural ones. These are already implemented in many brands, and we see more and more FMCG products going natural.

RW: Currently on trend are: fibre-based ingredients that can add texture to products in place of traditional hydrocolloids; fruits and vegetable extracts with umami characteristics in place of flavour enhancers like MSG; and ingredient opportunities using enzymes − for example, using lipases in bakery products to create monoglycerides in situ or using proteases on proteins to create antimicrobial peptides.

Making a breakthrough in 2014 are protein-based ingredients. Proteins are generally seen as ‘good’ by consumers and are on trend for reasons of satiety and weight control. They are highly functional ingredients and offer clean label options for texturising, emulsification and foaming.

In line with clean label is a move towards shorter or purer ingredients. We are likely to see an increasing number of product launches that claim only two or three ingredients have been used − clean and lean, if you like.

What are the challenges and opportunities for clean label?

SM: One of the biggest issues in the move toward clean label is the removal or replacement of functional ingredients that work in a specific and controllable way. This remains a challenge in the bakery sector, but also features in colours (retaining stability) and in maintaining shelf life when removing preservatives. There are also opportunities to re-evaluate processes but doing so may not always be a realistic option. As mentioned above, there are opportunities to look at premium products, including when novel flavours and approaches are used.

"In terms of the ingredients sector, emulsifiers remain the holy grail of clean label as these highly functional additives are difficult to replace."

ER: I identify the challenges as being the functional and technical aspects of the products, including formulation challenges, product convenience, and consumers’ trust and belief in the products. Clean labels offer great opportunities to those with new ways to communicate and prove their products − they also create strong relationships with consumers.

BG: As food manufacturers continue to invest in reformulation projects that address consumer demand for healthier products, simpler recipes and familiar ingredients, the main challenges and opportunities are related to the need for ingredient manufacturers and food producers to work collaboratively to find solutions that can enhance brands and satisfy consumers.

KN: The challenges for many clean-label FMCG manufacturers relate to shelf life, since well-established synthesised ingredients were originally developed to ensure consistent product quality. There are many opportunities for suppliers of natural preservative and stabiliser solutions.

RW: In terms of the ingredients sector, emulsifiers remain the holy grail of clean label as these highly functional additives are difficult to replace. Another challenge is the lack of definition for clean label; there are accepted definitions within the ingredients sector, but retailer perspectives are sometimes different. In reality, the choice of clean-label ingredients is still limited and there remains a world of opportunities for new ingredients that offer the same level of functionality as traditional additives without compromising on shelf life, or most importantly in the eyes of the consumer, taste.